Real Estate Committee Says No To Judah Eldredge Purchase

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Conservation

The Six Ponds District of Critical Planning Concern.  GOOGLE EARTH

HARWICH — The Judah Eldredge property, located in the Six Ponds District in East Harwich, did not receive a recommendation for purchase as open space by the real estate and open space committee again this year.

The committee, however, did support the use of $200,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to obtain a conservation restriction on the 15-acre Cornelius Pond property, off Queen Anne Road, which the Harwich Conservation Trust is presently raising funds to acquire.

The open space committee voted last week not to support Town Administrator Christopher Clark's request to the community preservation committee for $369,000 to acquire the 24.6-acre Judah Eldredge property by eminent domain.

Clark was clearly disappointed in the REOS Committee's decision not to support the request. Clark was under the impression the committee supported the request, communicating that to selectmen two weeks earlier.

The Judah Eldredge property drew the town's attention two years ago when selectmen sought to take the property by eminent domain to use as a recharge site for treated wastewater. After the proposal received the endorsement of town meeting in 2015, neighbors banded together under a “No on 9” initiative and defeated a debt exclusion ballot question seeking $395,000 to purchase or take the Eldredge property by eminent domain.

Jim Cheverie, who lives across from the property on Hawksnest Road and spearheaded the “No on 9” campaign, went to the selectmen shortly after the funding was defeated and urged the town to make another effort to take ownership of the property, this time for open space and conservation purposes.

Since that time, the town has continued to pursue the acquisition, despite a vote by the REOS committee in May 2016 to indefinitely table consideration of the purchase until “title, usage and funding are cleared up.” The group also recommended the board of selectmen “not pursue it further,” REOS Committee Chair Katherine Green said this week.

Green said the committee discussed the purchase in its September and October meetings, questioning the funding mechanism. She noted that the appraised value of the property was $369,000 while there are $473,000 owed in back taxes.

“There is no funding mechanism to make up the difference,” Green said.

The committee also had questions about why CPA funds should be used to essentially pay the town through payment of the back taxes. Green said in the October meeting Assistant Town Administrator Charleen Greenhalgh, Finance Director Carol Coppola and Director of Assessing Donna Molino addressed funding issues.

“The request was not as high a priority as other projects that came before us,” Green said. “It's not in imminent danger of being picked up by a developer and there are limited resources.”

But Clark emphasized the application before the community preservation committee has the support of the board of selectmen and the conservation commission.

“They set the priorities for what the town should be obtaining,” Clark said this week. “The Judah Eldredge property was given a high priority from the board of selectmen and the conservation commission.”

The opportunity to clear up the owners unknown status of the property and for the town to acquire open space in the sensitive Six Ponds District is a win-win Clark said. Regarding the REOS committee's concern for additional funds to cover the cost of paying for all of the back taxes, he said the law requires the town to pay only the appraised price for the property, which is $369,000. He has a meeting scheduled this week with town counsel to discuss the particulars of the town's payment obligations for acquiring the land.

“I thought the purpose of the real estate and open space committee is to decide whether the property makes sense as it relates to open space, not how it relates to value or tax purposes,” Clark said.

The community preservation committee is not obligated to follow the REOS committee's recommendations, Clark said, since it is an advisory committee. He said he will be providing a prioritized list off all town projects submitted this year for CPA funding at the request of David Nixon, chairman of the community preservation committee.

“We are just an advisory committee and that application is still going forward, it will just have one less check mark,” said Green, who also serves on the community preservation committee. “It's a beautiful piece of property, there is no doubt about that. This does not preclude it from coming before us again next year.”

The REOS committee is recommending the community preservation committee provide $200,000 in CPA funding for the conservation restriction to be held by the conservation commission for the 15-acre Cornelius Pond property. The Harwich Conservation Trust is in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to purchase the land, located off Queen Anne Road. The parcel is in a zone of contribution to public water supply wells. Its preservation would protect more than 1,000 feet of a coastal plain pond shoreline and a diverse habitat, including forest, meadow and wetland, that enables a variety of wildlife to feed, shelter and nest.

Green said the CPA application was filed by the REOS committee in partnership with the Harwich Conservation Trust. Under the deal, the trust would own the property and the town would hold the conservation restriction. She said that is similar to the town's participation in the 17- acre Marini property purchase along the headwaters of Muddy Creek.

The community preservation committee is just beginning to schedules meetings with the applicants which have made requests for CPA funding under the four funding categories allowed under the law.